How Assuming I’m Selfish Helped My Relationships

A lot of things that don’t matter get said on twitter. A while back, though, I read something that changed my relationships for the better.


The Idea

Tim Keller leads a church of over 5,000 people in New York City, a place with its fair share of egos, and perhaps not a culture that screams selflessness. In mid-2014, he tweeted the following, which was then retweeted more than 1000 times! Clearly, there was something that resonated in these words:


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The thought grabbed me. Although I’m not married, I do have plenty of relationships that are affected by how selfishly – or selflessly – I choose to behave.

I decided to take this idea to heart, and I began a little experiment.


The Experiment

Every time I found myself a little bit frustrated by the fact that someone in my life had done something in particular – or hadn’t done something in particular – I asked myself,

‘Is it possible you’re just being selfish?’

‘Is it possible that you could actually change your expectations instead of expecting them to change their behaviour? Would that be reasonable?’

‘Is it possible that you could actually contribute a behaviour or attitude here that would strengthen the relationship instead of a response or attitude that could weaken it?’


Mostly, the answers to these questions, were – Yes. That is definitely possible.


The Results

I found myself stopping to consider how my own selfishness might be clouding how accurately and reasonably I was interpreting the actions of people I care about. I found that acknowledging my own selfishness makes the selflessness of others more noticeable.


This, in turn, made me more grateful for all the little selfless acts of help, encouragement and friendship I found in my relationships day by day. It made me want to be more selfless too.

I know – and have experienced – relationships where the issue would not be my own selfishness, but is instead the other person’s dysfunction. If you’re in a situation like this, please don’t hear me say you should make their unhealthy behaviour your responsibility.

However, in healthy relationships, I found this to be an approach that yielded positive results.

Am I saying I’m now a perfect dream to know and live with? Not at all. But by looking at things from this perspective, I am more motivated to be better in my relationships, and more thankful for those I am in relationships with. Which, to quote Keller, is a good prospect for great things.